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How to manage your hay fever and plan a low-allergen garden

As we move into the summer months, there has never been a better time to take full advantage of your garden. But with allergies a significant worry for many, money.co.uk has put together a guide to help hay fever sufferers plan a low-allergen garden so they can enjoy the warm weather too.

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Image of two people gardening in green overalls, one person spraying house, the other person holding a chair

In an effort to make the best of a warm April and May, almost half of the UK (49.3%) have taken to gardening during the coronavirus lockdown.

While this is a great hobby for many, for the 13 million hay fever sufferers in the UK the spring and summer months can prove a challenge.

With the importance of fresh air to mental health and wellbeing clear, money.co.uk has worked with gardening expert Jackie Herald to put together some tips and tricks to help hay fever sufferers enjoy a beautiful garden this summer.

Top tips for low-allergen gardening

Image of low allergen diagram garden, pointing to various areas to support what would enhance low allergen gardening:

(1) Keep the lawn short
(2) Flower Diversity:
(3) Midday Gardening
(4)Avoid wind-pollinated vegetable crops
(5) Be cautious of mould spores on vegetable beds
(6) Plant fruit trees:
(7) Create natural barriers
(8) Garden seating: With gardening being a good form of exercise, take the time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Ensure you keep your garden seating well away from the more allergenic pollen sources and sources of potential mould spores.
(9)Compost with care
(10) Choose beneficial blooms:
  • Keep the lawn short during the summer months. This helps to prevent the growth of lawn flowers and means less grass pollen is released into the air.

  • Flower diversity is important. Choose a range of blooms with different flowering months, for both biodiversity and long-lasting visual impact. If you’re planning a cutting garden, avoid flowers with a strong scent, as these can be overpowering when you take them indoors.

  • Midday gardening is your best option. Pollen levels are at their highest at the beginning of the day, as they rise with the warming air, and again at the end of the day when it’s cooling down. So avoid gardening at these times if you suffer from hay fever. Try and stick to 12pm-4pm.

  • Avoid wind-pollinated vegetable crops. Plant delivery company Rocket Gardens has highlighted that the increased time we are spending gardening has resulted in an over 600% rise in sales of its organic vegetable, herb and fruit plants. If you suffer with hay fever, avoid wind-pollinated crops such as sweetcorn and peas. Instead look to plant leafy greens and root vegetables, such as lettuce and beetroot.

  • Plant fruit trees or another low-allergy species. These offer spring blossom, summer fruit and good autumn colour. Apple (Malus), cherry/plum (Prunus), rowan (Sorbus) and juneberry (Amelanchier) are best to plant. Aim to avoid wind-pollinated trees, that may cause hay fever flare ups, such as alder (Alnus), hazel (Corylus)  and birch (Betula).

  • Create natural barriers like hedges to capture and filter pollutants. However, be wary of certain species of hedge, such as yew (Taxus), laurel (Laurus), beech (Fagus) and hornbeam (Carpinus) as they can trigger hay fever.

  • Compost with care as compost bins can act as a source of mould spores, which are even finer than pollen and hold the risk of reaching deep into the respiratory system. Keep the bins well away from seating areas and ensure you cover them up, as well as using gloves when handling them.

  • Watch out for mould spores on vegetable beds. Due to vegetables benefiting from well-drained soil, many choose to grow them in a raised bed. If it's made of timber, make sure to line your bed with a waterproof membrane to prevent the timbers from rotting and producing mould spores.

  • Think about your garden seating as positioning is important. Gardening takes patience and effort, so make sure you take the time to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour. Just ensure you keep your garden seating well away from the more allergenic pollen sources and any potential mould spores.

  • Choose beneficial blooms as generally what’s good for bees and other insects is good for us too. Prioritise insect-pollinated plants, many of which are bell, funnel or trumpet-shaped so that insects have to probe inside to reach the pollen.

10 plants to avoid

Plant diversity is important for any garden, however it's crucial to choose the right flower to avoid hay fever triggers.

Money.co.uk has rounded up a top 10 list of plants to avoid, with alternatives that still allow you to create a varied, colourful garden.

List of 10 high allergen plants to avoid with low allergen swap alternatives and top tips

Avoid: Common jasmine (Jasminum)

Swap for: Star jasmine (Trachelospermum)

Trachelospermum is tolerant of shade and its perfume is less heady than common jasmine. However, it will produce more flowers and scent in a sunny spot. It’s lovely, but don’t plant too much if your outdoor space is very enclosed.

Avoid: Chrysanthemum, single flowered

Swap for: Double-flowered chrysanthemum

Double flowers have less pollen than single ones. But if you have the space, planting just a few singles dotted among a sea of doubles makes a lovely contrast and will not affect the total pollen count for your garden too significantly.

Avoid: Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)

Swap for: Butterfly bush (Buddleia)

Buddleia blooms point up rather than hang down like the Amaranthus. But if you’re looking for a butterfly magnet with height and exuberant colour in your herbaceous border, there is a good choice of Buddleia varieties available.

Avoid: Bottlebrush (Callistemon)

Swap for: Grevillea

Grevillea is better for people with allergies due to its tubular flowers, as the bees have to probe inside to reach the pollen. Grevillea wafts elegantly, and the texture of its foliage makes an attractive contrast to strappy and broader leaves.

Avoid: Mimosa (Acacia)

Swap for: Mahonia

Mahonia is very different in shape and habit but if you like vivid yellow flowers there’s a wide choice of cultivars. It’s a good source of pollen for bees in late winter, and some cultivars have a delicious scent. The berries that follow in spring are loved by blackbirds.

Avoid: Privet (Ligustrum)

Swap for: Escallonia

You can make topiary from Escallonia, or plant it as a classic hedge. Different varieties give you a good choice of white, pink or red flowers. The evergreen and shiny leaves catch the light even in more shady parts of the garden. It has good disease resistance too.

Avoid: Mugwort (Artemisia)

Swap for: Russian sage (Perovskia)

If you’re wanting silvery foliage for a sunny spot and lovely violet-blue flowers, Perovskia is for you. In winter, the bare stems look amazing on frosty days. You can trim the plant in spring to encourage flowers on the fresh growth.

Avoid: Everlasting flower (Anaphalis)

Swap for: Pot marigold (Calendula)

Lovely cut-and-come-again blooms for the border, planter or kitchen garden. Calendula is fun, easy to grow and very versatile. The petals are edible and can be sprinkled on salads and stews to pep up flavour and colour. The flowers can also be dried for everlasting floral decorations.

Avoid: False hellebore (Veratrum)

Swap for: Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum)

Plant this perennial in shade, especially for a natural woodland look. Its white flowers and strappy leaves on quite tall stems leave space for a floral carpet beneath. A combination of cyclamen, snowdrop, crocus, narcissi and wood anemones will provide colour and interest through the seasons.

Avoid: Cypress (Cupressus), including Leylandii hedging

Swap for: Female yew (Taxus)

For evergreen structure, yew is great, both as a hedge or clipped into spirals, columns, balls or even fantasy creatures! When buying yew or any other separate sexed (dioecious) species, make sure the plants you buy have berries on them, guaranteeing they are female (i.e. no pollen).

Year-round gardening

Hay fever tends to flair up in the warmer months, but there are multiple strands of pollen allergies which are proven to affect people throughout the year. 

Make notes of the symptoms and timing of your allergy flare ups. The more specific you can be about the environment that sets you off, the better. 

By using our pollen calendar, you can identify what type of pollen you may be allergic to and understand more about what triggers your hay fever.

UK Pollen calendar showing peak release times

Seasonal blooms

While the majority of people spend just the summer months gardening, maintaining flower growth year-round can have a positive impact on our mental wellbeing. So don’t be tempted to fill your flowerbeds with what’s blooming right now, instead plan ahead for a beautiful garden in every season.

January: Snowdrop (Galanthus Nivalis)
February: Ivy-leaved Cyclamen  (Cyclamen)
March: Magnolia
April: Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata )
May: Allium
June: Snapdragon (Antirrhinum)
July: Lily of Nile (Agapanthus)
August: Mophead Hydrangea (Hydrangea Macrophylla)
September: Sedum
October: Dahlia (Dahlia Pinnata)
November: Camellia Japonica
December: Christmas Rose (Hellebore)

Being hay fever conscious in 2020

Some symptoms of coronavirus cross over with allergies, so the two can easily be confused for one another.

If you are worried you might have COVID-19 symptoms, visit the NHS website.

If you are not sure if your symptoms are related to COVID-19 or allergies, you can use this allergen clinical fact sheet* to identify any potential symptom crossovers you may experience.

*Created by Allergy UK, the Anaphylaxis Campaign and the BSACI

How do I avoid aggravating allergies if I need to go outside?

Venturing outdoors to exercise and enjoy nature can require a lot of planning for allergy sufferers.

Helpful practices include, as with gardening, trying to ensure your time outside is taken around midday. This will help minimise the chances of pollen triggering hay fever symptoms. 

Additionally, equipping yourself with 'pollen shields' can make a difference, such as wearing a hat and glasses. It can also be important to keep your outdoor clothes separate from indoor ones to avoid cross-contamination.

Improving my garden

If you are looking to join the millions of UK homeowners investing in their gardens, make sure you compare both personal loan and credit card options before you borrow.

If your garden is already your pride and joy, it is important to have the right financial protection in place in case something goes wrong. Before taking out home insurance, be sure to check your garden is covered in your contents insurance. This can protect everything from tools in your garden shed, to outdoor furniture.

Protect your home and belongings for less by comparing home insurance policies to cover a range of property types and individual circumstances.

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